Tempers flared tonight at the Bath Town Council meeting in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.
Town of Bath Recorder Susan Webster set off the controversy with a paid ad in the Morgan Messenger last week in which she accused the town’s Historic Landmark Commission of a “power grab” by pushing for certificates of appropriateness (COAs) for covered new construction, remodeling, renovation and repairs.
At the end of the ad Webster urged local citizens to come to the council meeting tonight to let their voices be heard.
One problem – the Historic Landmark Commission’s work was not on the agenda for tonight’s meeting. That work will be discussed at a special meeting Thursday, May 20 at 5:30 pm at the Ice House.
Webster asked to speak tonight on the issue of the Landmark Commission’s work.
“No,” Merki said. “We will have that meeting (Thursday) and you all are most certainly welcome to be there at that meeting to address any concerns, anything that you might need to do, but I’m not going to go round and round tonight with historical landmark commission,” Mayor Scott Merki told Webster after she asked to address the issue. “We’re just not going to do it tonight. We’ve got town business we have to conduct. That is a meeting that’s already been set up as a special meeting to address any concerns. Anybody can speak.”
“So you are going to turn these people away?” Webster ask.
“Yes I am. Yes I am. Yes I am,” Merki said. “We have a meeting set up, we are not arguing this tonight, we will add that on the 20th, you’re most certainly welcome at that time.”
“You are not going to let these people speak?” Webster asked again.
“No I am not going to until we have the Ice House meeting.”
“I have to say something,” Webster interrupted.
“No, no, Susan, no, absolutely not,” Merki said. “You have stirred this up with the letter (in the Messenger). That’s it. I’m done.”
And Merki came down with the gavel and moved on to council business.
For a moment.
A few moments later, Webster asked how the meeting is going to be conducted on Thursday.
“We’re going to have a mediator,” Merki said.
“A mediator? Who?” Webster asked.
“Sally Marshall,” Merki said. “We’re going to have a mediator so we don’t have a big brouhaha.”
Webster said she didn’t want a brouhaha either.
“I understand Susan, but what was printed in the paper – I am not hashing that out tonight Susan. It can be done at that meeting.”
And then Merki dropped the gavel again and moved on.
For another moment.
A few minutes later Webster said she thought the draft proposal from the Landmark Commission should be put up on the town’s website. Merki said that Town had never done that before and why should they start now?
From the back of the room, Webster’s husband Pete Moss accused Merki of trying to hide something.
“You just keep pressing this and pressing this and of course your husband has already told me that I’m hiding something,” Merki told Webster. “I’m not hiding anything. The public can come into the town offices and look at the draft.”
“It’s the perception,” Moss said. “The perception of hiding something.”
“Whatever Pete,” Merki shot back. “You know it all, don’t you?”
And then Merki tried to move on.
For another moment.
Webster did eventually force a vote on putting the draft proposal up on the town’s website – and the council voted for the motion. The draft proposals thus will be up on the town website so that people can read them online.
Bath police chief Tony Link said that he hoped that everyone at the Thursday night meeting would behave themselves.
“But I got a feeling I know how it is going to go,” Link said. “I’m going to be kicking people out. I look for it to get loud.”
Link said that the ground rules for the meeting at the Ice House were “real simple.”
“It’s going to be a calm meeting. Everybody talk it out. If you are causing a disruption and getting loud, I’ll warn you one time. Second time you will be removed from the building. Plain and simple. If you resist, I will arrest you for resisting arrest.”
In her ad in the Messenger, Webster said that the Historic Landmark Commission could do it’s work without “the weight of force.”
“Let the Historic Landmark Commission review permit applications and plans and make recommendations without the weight of force,” Webster wrote. “Then step back and let the free market control.”
Doesn’t Webster believe that the town has to draw lines and enforce them with “the weight of force”?
Webster was Mayor for 19 years before she was defeated by Merki in 2015.
And in 2004, she oversaw passage of a law that effectively prohibited sexually oriented businesses – strip clubs – in the town limits.
Why didn’t she just “step back and let the free market control” the strip clubs?
Bath too could then be like Martinsburg with “gentlemen’s clubs” with neon lights flashing “Girls Girls Girls.”
Webster now says she didn’t vote on the strip club ordinance.
Should that law effectively banning strip clubs in Bath be repealed?
“I hadn’t thought about it,” Webster said.
Is it a good idea to prohibit strip clubs in the town of Bath?
“I would have to think about it,” Webster said.
There has to be a line, right?
“I don’t know.”